Council tax is due to rise on 1 April for many people, another turn of the screw for those already struggling with the cost of living crisis.
People in Wales have seen their council tax rise significantly faster than those in England and Scotland over the past 12 years.
However it’s those in Rutland and Nottingham, in the East Midlands, who will have the highest fees when the 2023/24 rates come in on 1 April.
People living in Band D properties there will pay more than £2,400 a year, while those in similarly-priced properties in Westminster and Wandsworth will pay less than £900.
Despite having lower rates per band than those in Rutland and Nottingham, people in Surrey councils are likely to pay some the highest levels of council tax overall as there are more properties valued in the highest tax bands.
In Elmbridge, a Surrey borough home to many Chelsea footballers seeking proximity to their Cobham training ground, more than a quarter of homes are in Bands G and H, six times more than normal across Great Britain.
Just one in fifty properties are in the least expensive Bands A and B, compared with a national average of one in five.
As a result, people in Elmbridge are likely to pay more than £2,800 each in the year to April 2024, more than any other area.
At the other end of the scale, almost all the areas with the cheapest council tax after adjusting for house prices are in Scotland.
People in Shetland or the Western Isles will pay less than £1,200 on average, higher only than Wandsworth and lower than even Westminster, which retain their positions towards the bottom of the table despite high house prices there.
The cheapest areas outside of London or Scotland are Stoke-on-Trent, Sunderland and Wigan, where people are likely to pay just under £1,500 each.
What’s happening in the different nations?
Every council in Scotland has reduced council tax in real terms since 2011/12, the first year for which equivalent data is available across all three of England, Scotland and Wales.
In Wales, council tax has risen by at least 12% in every council area, even after adjusting for inflation.
Northern Ireland’s Department of Finance say that it is “impossible to make a straightforward comparison” to the other nations on council tax. The country has a system of domestic rates which is similar but different to council tax.
In Wales as a whole people are likely to be paying about a fifth more than they were twelve years ago even after adjusting for inflation, while people in Scotland will be paying about 8% less.
This year’s high Inflation is cited as one reason why rates have risen in Wales:
“Budget setting is extremely difficult this year due to high inflation and other cost drivers. While the settlement from Welsh Government was better than expected, it still leaves an enormous gap of around £300m to be bridged,” explained the Welsh Local Government Association.
But inflation has also been high across the rest of Great Britain.
The Scottish government froze council tax from 2007/08 to 2016/17, and blocked councils from raising rates by more than 3% in real terms from then until 2020-21.
“This has resulted in 30-40% lower Council Tax charges on average in Scotland compared with England and Wales”, said the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.
There has never been such a cap in Wales, while in England, councils with social care duties can raise council tax by 5% and others can put it up by 3%.
If a local authority wants to increase council tax by more than 5%, residents must vote for it in a referendum. As yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, none have been passed.
Croydon, Slough, and Thurrock, however, have been granted special permission from the government this year to raise their council tax above this cap because of huge gaps in their finances.
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Why do some councils set higher council tax than others?
You get a different answer depending on who you ask.
Councils that have managed to keep council tax low, like Wandsworth, Hillingdon and Hammersmith & Fulham laid credit to prudent and responsible financial management from those responsible over several years.
Places like Rutland, Dorset and Wakefield, which have all raised council tax by some of the highest amounts in England, have called for fairer funding for councils, however.
They say that many councils which charge lower council tax get more money given to them by central government grants, despite often having less demand for expensive services like adult social care.
Are the explanations fair?
The Local Government Association told Sky News that one fund that the English government distributes to councils – the Revenue Support Grant – meant that “essentially a lot of the calculation of how much council tax people pay is set centrally,” supporting claims by councils that higher taxes are somewhat out of their control.
The more grant money a council receives the more likely it is to have lower council tax.
Westminster receives more than £170 per person from the Revenue Support Grant, more than the 157 bottom councils put together – each of which get less than £2 per person.
Rural areas are worst affected. Five of the ten areas that receive the most per person from the Revenue Support Grant are in London and all the others are cities.
Adding to add to that issue, councils with the most over-65s – also more likely to be rural areas – have higher council tax rates than those with fewer.
Councillor Lucy Stevenson, leader of Rutland Council, told Sky News that “part of the first job is actually telling our rural story so that we get people to look beyond what they see is affluence, and actually inside the county.”
“When we were looking at levelling up, some of the residents said ‘Are you sure we deserve that money?’ I said ‘absolutely. Have you looked at our data?’
“The second job is to come up with solutions. There is a wider issue for local government. Most councils are looking at deficit budgets or cutting services. The whole of local government needs serious consideration.
“It is the workhorse of the country for everybody’s day to day lives.”
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